In it’s purest form, there’s nothing too terribly wrong with eminent domain. It says that the government may take property to benefit the public at large provided that it compensates the property owner for the taking. In America, the government’s obligation to pay for the land it takes for public use is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. (Emphasis mine.)
When the Founders enacted the Fifth Amendment, they contemplated situations in which a project would benefit an entire community, such as a dam, a major thoroughfare or a levee. In that case, an individual property owner might have to yield for the public good, but at least he was given fair market value for his property. That’s much better than property owner rights in a tyrannical society. There, the government takes land to benefit the tyrant or his friends. End of story.
In America, thanks to crony capitalism (or, as I more commonly think of it, crony fascism), we have a new twist of eminent domain, one that’s closer to the tyrannical model than the model the Founders put into place. The government, rather than seizing private property for the public good (freeways, dams, levees, etc.), seizes it for the benefit of a large developer who promises that the government will probably, maybe, get some type of ancillary benefit, such as possible increase in its tax revenue. Worse, if the political entity is corrupt, there’s no potential payoff to the community at large. Instead, there are just some nice kickbacks for the politicians who make the deal happen. The Supreme Court put its imprimatur on this gross abuse of power in the Kelo decision.
One person who was very excited by the Kelo decision was Donald Trump. He has long thought it’s great if a developer can use the weight of government to force a an individual to sell land to the developer and he has acted upon that thought. At long last, Trump’s infatuation with eminent domain is coming to light, thanks to a Cruz campaign video: